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JPL Scientists Take NASA To the Supreme Court

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the ask-kozinksi dept.

NASA 238

CheshireCatCO writes "Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, concerned about background checks now required of federal employees, sued NASA to suspend the checks back in 2007. The case has now worked its way up to the Supreme Court. At stake: whether all federal employees can be forced to undergo open-ended background checks whether or not the employee has exposure to classified or sensitive information. The background checks, which can include interviewing people from employees' pasts such as landlords and teachers, may seek, among other things, sexual histories."

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Go JPL (5, Insightful)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700002)

I hope the JPL scientists win!

Re:Go JPL (0)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700048)

Hope and Change, Mofos. Where is Obama?!

Re:Go JPL (2, Interesting)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700100)

Ideas and Competance, Mofos. Where is the Nation?

Re:Go JPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700562)

Competant

Re:Go JPL (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700106)

Obama? He's busy loading the Justice Department with RIAA lawyers. Really, I don't think you want to call on him for this.

Re:Go JPL (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700386)

Really? Is that all you care about is downloading free music?

The born again Christian paranoid Texan who left Obama one fuckwad of a mess to clean up was selling you out far further than trolling IP addresses for illegally sharing content.

As an outside observer who is not American, when I look at the mess GWB left for BO to deal with I have to say he's doing one hell of a job. The USA would be a third-world country by now if it wasn't for the crazy hard decisions Obama had to make to keep the US from tanking more than it did!

He's not a God or the second coming of Christ, but he's doing a pretty good job leading the US out of the tar pits.

Re:Go JPL (1, Insightful)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700452)

"An outside observer"? That would explain how you presume to sit there in judgment of us who have to live with the Community Organizer's capricious policies, foisted upon us by his choicest advisers who have never had private-sector jobs in their lives. The inconsistency of those policies is clearly not leading us out of the tar pits, but rather burying us in them even more.

Wherever you are, do us a favor and stay there.

Re:Go JPL (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700554)

"An outside observer"? That would explain how you presume to sit there in judgment of us who have to live with the Community Organizer's capricious policies, foisted upon us by his choicest advisers who have never had private-sector jobs in their lives. The inconsistency of those policies is clearly not leading us out of the tar pits, but rather burying us in them even more.

Wherever you are, do us a favor and stay there.

"Men in the game are blind to what men looking on see clearly"

Re:Go JPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700560)

Yeah, don't try to address anything he actually said. Just take his position, and assume that because he doesn't have a vested stake, that everything he says should just be ignored, right?

Re:Go JPL (5, Insightful)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700604)

Insightful, really? Where's the patriot act rage? The DMCA rage? How quickly people forget that Bush told us there were weapons of mass destruction (there weren't) and waged a war of aggression that cost us nearly 50 times the original estimate of $60 billion dollars. That high-level Bush administration officials were personally responsible for suppressing evidence of human rights violations in overseas American prisons. That people are only now being released with our apologies for being held without trial for almost 10 years. That civil rights were eroded beyond anyone's wildest imagination in the anti-terrst frenzy after 9/11.

And what about the financial crisis? Which would you rather have, Obama stealing thousands from the pockets of millionaires [huffingtonpost.com] or a downward spiral of economic peril that was the consequence of a presidential administration's pathological revulsion to reasonable regulation.

Re:Go JPL (-1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700720)

And what about the financial crisis? Which would you rather have, Obama stealing thousands from the pockets of millionaires [huffingtonpost.com] or a downward spiral of economic peril that was the consequence of a presidential administration's pathological revulsion to reasonable regulation.

I remember the economy humming along extremely well until the Democrats took over congress. Remember, congress controls the purse strings, writes the budgets, and therefor runs the economy.

How quickly people forget...

Yes. How quickly we forget.

Re:Go JPL (5, Insightful)

chrisG23 (812077) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700830)

You make it sound like the economy is a simple entity that immediately responds to the actions of those in control of the purse strings, budgets, and most importantly, the fiscal policy. It is not that simple. The seeds for the recession that officially began in December 2007 (National Bureau of Economic Research) were laid in place well before the Congress shifted to a Democrat majority in January of 2007. It would have happened regardless of who was in Congress for the 11 months prior to the start.

Re:Go JPL (-1, Flamebait)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700726)

"Insightful, really?"

Don't worry, it's just Slashdot's regular Saturday-night turnover to right-wing-heavy moderation. Things'll be back to semi-normal come Sunday afternoon.

Re:Go JPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700628)

Since you're an observer who is not an American this is obviously only your perception. Live here and learn the truth.

Obama's Busy Defending Bush Admin. Policies (5, Insightful)

billstewart (78916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700646)

I care much more about issues like illegal prisons, torture (whether or not by that name), secret kidnappings, state secrets, assassinations without trials, warrantless wiretapping, and policies like that than I do about downloading free music, but Obama's Just-Us Department is defending the Bush Administration's policies on all of those things. Instead of Hopey Changey Stuff, we've been getting Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss. And the kind of people who want the uncontrolled spying on people's music download habits get along really well with the politically-motivated spooks who want the same powers and same infrastructure.

As far as the economy goes, Keynes himself was smarter than most people who use his name to describe themselves - it's not surprising that the Obama Administration tried to fix Bush's massive economic damage by borrowing and spending lots of money, but if that were all it took, the way Bush racked up deficits by spending money like a drunken sailor with a bunch of stolen credit cards should have helped things instead of hurting them. It's certainly better to spend them on domestic pork-barrel projects than on wars, but Obama hasn't slowed down the wars by much either. There's a better excuse for it (naive optimism instead of cynical irresponsibility), but I don't see it getting us out of the tar pits, since we're still going to have to pay that money back, and with the demographic hit of all the boomers going on Social Security in the next decade, the general budget will need to start running surpluses, not deficits, which will be tough with fewer actual workers.

(And religious bigotry's not pretty even if you are attacking politically correct targets. Blamin' Texans is ok, though...)
(Also, I once pulled a bird out of the La Brea Tar Pits; it was still alive, but the folks at the museum said it was unlikely to recover from getting stuck in that stuff.)

Re:Obama's Busy Defending Bush Admin. Policies (3, Funny)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700854)

Sir, you are offending drunken sailors everywhere with this.

Re:Go JPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700722)

What do you mean trolling for IPs of people illegally downloading music?

The RIAA sued people who don't even own computers for illegal downloading, they seem to use a wheel of misfortune to pick people at random and the law lets them get away with it.

And if you really are an "outside observer" why do you even give a fuck about what direction you think the US is heading in anyway?

Re:Go JPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700868)

Really? Is that all you care about is downloading free music?

Really? Is that all you care about? Defending your bandwagon with trollish fallacies?

It's about blackmail (5, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700008)

The "sexual history" questions will unfortunately remain relevant in background checks for highly important/secret positions so long as sexual history related topics remain highly taboo in society. The (intended) purpose of these questions is to determine if the applicant has anything in their past that would make particularly them subjective to blackmail.

They leave a bad taste in my mouth too, which is why I avoid those sorts of jobs...

Re:It's about blackmail (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700062)

They leave a bad taste in my mouth too, which is why I avoid those sorts of jobs

Said Sir_Lewk to the NSA job interviewer, who had asked about Sir_Lewk's sexual history.

Re:It's about blackmail (4, Funny)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700098)

You know I never really thought of it like that, damn I hope that raw chicken doesn't talk.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Delarth799 (1839672) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700410)

Oh it doesn't have to, we have you secret video tapes right here mister chicken man.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700794)

Oh it doesn't have to, we have you secret video tapes right here mister chicken man.

You forgot the blackmail.

We have your secret video tapes right here mister chicken man, leave the keys to your office building under the dumpster outside if you don't want us to send it to your mother.

FTFY [substitute "wife" or "the press" if they are married or have a public reputation to protect]

AFAIK, the only defense against this sort of thing is either prevention (background check) or openness (antisocial weirdness that prevents you being embarrassed about having a bad rep), and savvy (to recognise social engineering and not fall for it). Alternative better ideas would be neat if you have any?

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700696)

The chicken won't, but the frog [youtube.com] escaped!

Re:It's about blackmail (4, Insightful)

Nyder (754090) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700118)

The "sexual history" questions will unfortunately remain relevant in background checks for highly important/secret positions so long as sexual history related topics remain highly taboo in society. The (intended) purpose of these questions is to determine if the applicant has anything in their past that would make particularly them subjective to blackmail.

They leave a bad taste in my mouth too, which is why I avoid those sorts of jobs...

Maybe people should just stop be ashamed by crap they do and not worry about it?

We all have gotten together with people we didn't want people to know. Chances are, people already know and don't care.

Seriously, blackmail only works if you let it.

You want to blackmail me? go for it. and good luck!

Re:It's about blackmail (1, Flamebait)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700158)

maybe people should not do things they are ashamed of?

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700238)

people change over time. what is shameful later might not have been shameful then.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

ksandom (718283) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700342)

people change over time. what is shameful later might not have been shameful then.

Spot on. Another aspect is that other peoples' perception matters to people. Eg Is a gay man really ashamed of being gay?

Blackmail and Sexual Histories (2, Insightful)

billstewart (78916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700672)

Blackmail isn't always about things you personally feel ashamed of - I've had friends who got fired from their jobs for being gay (hey, she didn't know her boss was a homophobe when she started working there), and there are people whose families would freak out if they knew.

One of the TLAs, probably NSA, once wanted to hire a guy who was gay, some time after it had stopped being illegal in most of the US. The deal they made was that he had to come out to his family, so it couldn't be used for blackmail. If it had been the Army, either under DADT or the previous Hunt Down The Queer Witches policy, blackmail would have still been a possibility even if his family was fine with it.

Re:Blackmail and Sexual Histories (2, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700768)

That has been the policy since the 80s when I had to get clearance.
I was only 19 at the time and working for a contractor in college. It was interesting. They had to interview my girlfriend and her parents.
Yes if you are going to be in that situation you can not have any secrets. Frankly nothing will change that. If you want to do that kind of work you have to deal with it.
Just like you can not work as construction worker on a high rise if you are terrified of heights.

Re:It's about blackmail (5, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700162)

We all have gotten together with people we didn't want people to know.

Infidelity and other sexual indiscretions can easily damage or even ruin marriages and political careers. It doesn't really matter whether or not YOU are ashamed of what YOU did. What matters is what EVERYONE else thinks.

Blackmail will continue to work as long as your spouse and/or the voters care about what YOU have been up to.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700428)

That's not what we're talking about here. We aren't talking about a highly public figure. We're talking about an employee who might want to keep something secret, like porn preferences.

If you don't care if the public knows about your porn preferences then blackmail won't work. It's not like there's anyone who will vote you out of your cubicle if they discover your porn preferences.. If your spouse doesn't already know your porn preferences then you probably have some issues you need to work out.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700540)

That's not what we're talking about here. We aren't talking about a highly public figure.

Right, so my comments about political career misses the mark a bit in this context, but the spouse/family aspect is still right on target.

We're talking about an employee who might want to keep something secret, like porn preferences.

Not really. Unless the porn preferences are illegal its not going to matter all that much to most people. I doubt anyone has ever really been successfully blackmailed with the fact that they like redheads in bondage porn.

Revelations of infidelity and bisexuality/homosexuality will still be effective blackmail though, because they can still trash your marriage / family / personal relationships - whether you are ashamed or not.

And illegal porn will of course be effective blackmail, along with any other blackmail involving crime.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700656)

"Revelations of infidelity and bisexuality/homosexuality will still be effective blackmail though, because they can still trash your marriage / family / personal relationships - whether you are ashamed or not."

Well bisexuality/homosexuality would be no use whatsoever for blackmail against people who turn up to the pride parade every year.

For a GOP senator on the other hand or someone who's "prayed the gay away" it would still be effective.

So weather you are ashamed or not can make a big difference.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700538)

Blackmail will continue to work as long as your spouse and/or the voters care about what YOU have been up to.

Slight correction: Blackmail will only continue to work to the degree that you care more about what other people think ('other people' includes spouse/voters/etc) about your past sexual history, than whatever the blackmailer is demanding. Although it is true that most politicians make themselves slaves to public opinion (kinda hard to get the job if you don't), I would avoid the assumption that all married people are ruled so absolutely by the cares/concerns/whims of their spouses. If you don't give a shit if your spouse finds out, even if your spouse would care a lot about it themselves, there is no leverage to blackmail.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700600)

If you don't give a shit if your spouse finds out, even if your spouse would care a lot about it themselves, there is no leverage to blackmail.

If you didn't give a shit you wouldn't be keeping it a secret in the first place.
The fact that you are keeping it secret indicates that you put some value in it being a secret.

But I agree that 'how much value' you put into it remaining a secret is a personal valuation, that isn't directly tied to how upset they will be. ... but if you value your spouse highly, and you firmly believe that if they found out they would leave, then you will value the secret highly.

The point I made originally is that blackmail is not founded on a simple question of 'shame' but one of consequences.

Re:It's about blackmail (5, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700188)

More accurately, people should stop caring about the crap other people do. Blackmail works if the people around you (your boss, your wife/family, your coworkers, your friends, your neighbors...) let it.

The spouse one is a big one. There can be big financial consequences involved there.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

scrod98 (609124) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700432)

Don't forget that adultery (and homosexuality) are against the rules for all active military personnel. They can lose their jobs over it.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700252)

Maybe people should just stop be ashamed by crap they do and not worry about it?

You might brag to everyone about whom you've slept with/are sleeping with but some people (especially women) consider their sex lives private if they had nothing to be worried about. The other part that made them nervous was the "unending" part of it considering that they never get near classified material.

Re:It's about blackmail (3, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700254)

Seriously, blackmail only works if you let it.

It's not just blackmail. Stupid HR people may rarely work, but when they do it can be preventing people from getting jobs due to trivialities on their files. You'll even get a "40 and still a virgin - can't have him working here" response if that sort of thing is on file. Anything other than what the HR people consider ideal from their own personal background puts you at a disadvantage if it's on file. The only real answer is to never let them see this stuff if it is collected.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700510)

Preyty stereotypical, considering the JPL scientists are annoyed not at HR, but Security.

And Security works a LOT. Your complaint might be that they work too much.

And that makes sense how?

I'm talking about additional stupidity not primary (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700594)

The HR people get to read the stuff security collects. Something that will get past security as being unimportant suddenly becomes a reason for you not to have a job.
The primary stupidity of security getting irrelevant information still applies, but I thought I'd mention the above as long term consequences from things that should be private trivia.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

gagol (583737) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700458)

One day, my roommate brought home a former waepon smuggler... interresting fellow but I REALLY wish our path never crossed. Many years later, I found out my landlord for the recording studio I was investing in was heavily into russian mafia... that is when I left the business. Another time, when I was younger and hitchhicking, a Hell's Angel gave me a ride and tried to recruit me.

You never know who you encounter. None of those encounters was voluntary, all of them could barred me from a job in security field.

Re:It's about blackmail (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700124)

The "sexual history" questions will unfortunately remain relevant in background checks for highly important/secret positions

The question is whether intrusive background checks are appropriate for scientists working on unclassified projects. I don't see what the "importance" of the project has to do with it. If they don't have access to national security secrets, why should the government be allowed to go on a fishing expedition through their private lives?

Re:It's about blackmail (5, Insightful)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700134)

"The (intended) purpose of these questions is to determine if the applicant has anything in their past that would make particularly them subjective to blackmail."

Yes, but blackmail for what? The latest images from Mars? The shoestring budget numbers for a project? The motor control code for actuators? I think people have the perception that what goes on at JPL is top secret stuff when in fact just about all of it gets released to the public sooner than later. We're talking research-y stuff here. Not DOD. And where people might be working on DOD stuff then the security clearances come into play.

These abusive background checks might make a little more sense for those pursuing a secret clearance, but for the day-to-day activities at JPL they are just that. Abusive.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700200)

I'm not commenting about the use of such interviews for the positions in this particular situation. I don't know the details, and can't be bothered to RTFA...

I'm just explaining what the purpose of those interview questions is at all, because it's something that may not be immediately obvious to all readers.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

jimrthy (893116) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700228)

I suspect the entire point is to hide the signal in the noise.

Then again, I suspect exactly the seem from /. I seem to be turning slightly paranoid.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

Reaperducer (871695) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700302)

You make the assumption that someone working at JPL will always work at JPL. People get transferred to other jobs within thier organizations all the time. And there are parts of NASA that do work for DOD (putting secret satellites into orbit leaps to mind, there are probably many others).

You also make the assumption that JPL never does any research for or fills requests for any other government agency, or that the expertise of its staff are never called on for use in other departments.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination or experience working in a regular office to know that once they've graduated from the cubicle farm, employees are pretty mobile, and knowledge spreads like a virus.

Re:It's about blackmail (4, Insightful)

jackbird (721605) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700340)

That's what actual security clearances are for, and not the subject of this lawsuit.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700766)

You make the assumption that someone working at JPL will always work at JPL. People get transferred to other jobs within thier organizations all the time. And there are parts of NASA that do work for DOD (putting secret satellites into orbit leaps to mind, there are probably many others).

You are making the assumption that your security clearance requirement (and subsequent check) never changes when your job changes. When you get a job with a higher clearance requirement, there will be a check. If you don't have any clearance, you will be investigated for one.

Re:It's about blackmail (4, Informative)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700774)

No. I work at JPL. I've done classified work before. Just because I have done it in the past or might in the future implies nothing about whether I should have a background check for my current job. If I were to do classified work in my current job, I would need to regain my clearance. This is the same as if I decided to go work minimum wage at a fast food chain then went back to classified work.

Though I dont care for my own sake, since I've already gone through it for legitimate reasons, making all employees here go through it is absurd. My best understanding (I started well after they stopped issuing the badges, so I'm not certain of the details) is that it was an unassuming attempt to put a generic federal badging procedure, which normally applies to DOD contractors, for which the background check makes sense. However it should not apply to JPL or other NASA centers, and to me this lawsuit is against the idea that more security is always necessarily better, and should be applied without consideration for the civil liberties of federal contractors.

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700784)

When I get hired for Job A, I should not have to meet the requirements for Job B, just in case I later transfer to that job. If and when the day comes that I do decide to transfer to Job B, then I should have to meet the requirements of that job.

This ain't rocket science.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700820)

You make the assumption that someone working at JPL will always work at JPL. People get transferred to other jobs within thier organizations all the time. And there are parts of NASA that do work for DOD (putting secret satellites into orbit leaps to mind, there are probably many others).

You seem to be under the impression that JPL is part of NASA. It isn't; it's part of CalTech, and has a contract from NASA to conduct America's unmanned exploration of space. How do I know? I know because I worked at JPL back in the mid-80s and have several friends who either work there now or did at some time.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

chrisG23 (812077) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700846)

No, the assumption is not made. If someone is working at JPL at a position that does not require a security clearance, then they should be required to submit to a security clearance if and only if they are being moved to a position that actually requires one. They can take one voluntarily ahead of time if they see themselves moving into a sensitive area in the future (as these things can take as long a year to go through depending on how deep the background check has to go) but if they do not aspire to that, then why should they be forced to? Also, if they are go move to a different company/organization, it should be the responsibility of the new company/organization to ensure that they have a valid security clearance (if required for the new job). I believe that is what the lawsuit is about.

eggheads don't get it (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700404)

It always cracks me up here on nerdot how supposedly really smart people fail basic simple analysis.

OK, I'll spell it out, security is in layers, and it is ongoing. Nothing is perfect, but you start at the outer perimeter, which is the grounds and buildings, the physical plant. You do not want a potentially compromised employee present, even if said employee is not "working on classified material". Yes, even the janitor.

    That "classified" work might be done within the same area/building is reason enough to start your security screening THERE.

Think about it as your network, where is your first layer of security? Your second, your third, or do you just run wide open with consumer grade "firewalls" on individual PCs? Nope, you do it in LAYERS and each layer is as good as you can do it.

This is why we have specialization and different jobs, some people are good at some things, some at others. You may be a whizzbang coder or materials scientist, but you could still suck so bad at security you would "take offense" at what the experts KNOW they should do.

And I am not a huge rah rah rah flag waver or anything, I am actually quite critical of both foreign and domestic policy trends today, just I know about this from some work in the past, which I don't want anything to do with now or ever again..but really..will you ultra smart guys one trick pony people just STOP thinking you are smart in every single discipline that exists? You aren't. No one is an expert in everything, even if your IQ is 160 or higher, you could still be dumb as a box of rocks in any number of subjects.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700480)

If JPL didn't care about who a job candidate slept with 20 years ago, that job candidate would be a lot less likely to become a blackmail target.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700142)

I guess it kind of depends on whether or not you have anything about yourself that you would prefer your employer not to know and could potentially be blackmailed over. Would, for instance, an openly gay person who could therefore not be blackmailed over being outed fare any better than someone who claimed to be heterosexual but could, conceivably, still be in the closet?

Re:It's about blackmail (3, Insightful)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700234)

That's his point.

If one is in the closet, it is usually for a pretty good reason. When you have people in this society that will literally get violent if they find that one is gay, one would have to be very careful who he tells in order to not get killed. Gays are still being murdered in this society. And if you get a boss who's belief system thinks that homosexuality is an affront to God or something like that, he has to cover themselves to have employment.

Everyone has something to hide - or I can make anything about you be turned into something that needs to be hidden.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700322)

That's not quite what I meant though. One aspect of the vetting is to determine whether the subject might be blackmailed over their sexual orientation, so which of these candidates is statistically the least susceptible to such blackmail:
  • Candidate A, who is openly gay
  • Candidate B, who claims to be heterosexual and nothing to contradict this was found in vetting

Candidate A clearly cannot be blackmailed over a threat to expose their sexual preferences, but Candidate B could be either telling the truth or has just managed keep a non-heterosexual lifestyle completely separate from their more public lifestyle. Statistically Candidate A poses the lower risk, but somehow I doubt that is the way many employers who employ vetting are going to see this.

Re:It's about blackmail (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700284)

Background checks are reasonable for extremely sensitive positions that require top secret security clearance, for example spies.

But JPL employees do not! JPL is not part of the military or even NASA, it is a branch of California Institute of Technology. These employees do not work on classified projects, and they do not require any security clearance.

Just because your paycheck comes from the government, does not mean that they should have the right to dig in your personal life.

Which is fine for security clearances (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700320)

When you are talking about giving someone access to classified information, yes you need to make sure they have no skeletons in their closet, nothing that can be used as leverage. This means checking mundane things like credit history, and more taboo things like sexual history. The investigators for an SSBI doesn't care if you are gay, they are if you care that you are gay. If you are in the closet, well maybe someone could use that as leverage. If you are happy with who you are, no problem.

However, I don't see why any of that should apply to normal jobs. If a clearance isn't needed, then what's the issue? You shouldn't be giving classified information to people without a clearance (that's the point of such things) so it shouldn't be reliant.

I'm not against the government doing extremely through background checks, but only when there's a reason. If you are a scientist working on cracking cryptographic codes form other nations, yes you need a check. If you are a scientist working on a new shuttle, no you do not.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700414)

I just don't keep my porn preferences particularly secret. I mean, I don't go advertising them but it's not like I'm going to keep it very secret if someone asks. Their reaction makes telling them worthwhile.

Abstanance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700442)

Your wife cannot legally be compelled to testify against you, thus if all your sex (taboo or otherwise) is with her, your sex dungeon is safe.

IANAL

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

lordmetroid (708723) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700468)

NASA is the spacial wing of the military. If you are gay, you are out of luck.

Re:It's about blackmail (2, Insightful)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700780)

NASA is a civilian agency, not a "wing" of any branch of the military.

Military space operations are run by the USAF Space Command and/or SAC.

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700622)

The federal government, at the very least, should be well above the irrational influence of social taboos. If one of its employees (i.e. servants of the public) becomes the victim of blackmail regarding some past indiscretion, sexual or otherwise, that employee should be able to seek out with full confidence the counsel and protection of a superior. After all, blackmail is a crime -- past indicretions are not -- and victims of blackmail should be given the full support, without judgement, of both their government employer and the appropriate law enforcement organization.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700648)

in addition to blackmail, they might want to check if you're prone to talked about work.

Just off the top of my head... A monogamous married man is less of a risk than someone who bring a new girl home each nite in a drunken haze. The drumken haze guy could leave document around the house, tell random secrets, maybe gloat about some secret project, be tempted to let a hot Chinese spy into his home...

While a wife might find stuff out, she'll be less likely to spread it around knowing the husband's predicament.

I really have no idea how secretive JPL needs to be... but assuming they work on secret stuff, it's probably a valid concern.

Re:It's about blackmail (1)

ThunderThor53 (836847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700666)

The "sexual history" questions will unfortunately remain relevant in background checks for highly important/secret positions so long as sexual history related topics remain highly taboo in society. The (intended) purpose of these questions is to determine if the applicant has anything in their past that would make particularly them subjective to blackmail.

Which is just fine for a *security clearance* background check. These researchers work on unclassified projects, which is why they're objecting to the background checks.

Re:It's about blackmail (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700802)

Also, nations at war often tend to think it's the 50's again..

Re:It's about blackmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700818)

Taboo might be part of the reason why sexual history can be important. Another very real reason is because spies have been known to use sex to buy secrets.

Questions presented to the Supreme Court (2, Informative)

unixan (800014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700072)

At stake: whether all federal employees can be forced to undergo open-ended background checks

Really? I don't see that in the questions being answered by the supreme court. [supremecourt.gov]

Anonymous Coward (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700116)

For all hath sinned and fallen short of the federal government. But the federal government hath made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins. The Background Check.

Rethink of "security" (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700148)

We need to rethink our entire foreign policy, rather than rely on unsustainable, unworkable "solutions" of restricting access to information and then panicking if that information gets out there, we need to make sure that the world won't use that information against us.

I'd be perfect (2, Informative)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700226)

My sexual history fits on a post-it note.

Re:I'd be perfect (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700258)

I don't even need a post-it note.

Re:I'd be perfect (1)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700486)

Mine would fit on a 16G flash drive.

Re:I'd be perfect (1)

Delarth799 (1839672) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700412)

I'm sure N/A could be fit onto something smaller than a post-it note.

Suspect? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700240)

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, concerned about background checks now required of federal employees, sued NASA to suspect the checks back in 2007.

I always suspected the checks. Oh wait, did you mean suspend?

Re:Suspect? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700636)

Why, pray thee tell, even bother with such a meaningless, trivial correction? The fact that you posted AC kind of gives away that you weren't posting to be helpful as much as snarky.

You know, if J Edgar Hoover... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700264)

True or false is large irrelevant as everyone has made enemy SOMEWHERE that would happily provide questionable testimony against you. In that light, J Edgar Hoover (whom I would think is a strong proponent of this nonsense) would've never passed the background check, for his alleged cross dressing habit.

Federal Background Checks = Good (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700276)

I believe that when government employees or any employee of any company handles sensitive data such as social security numbers, credit cards, etc.. should all be given thorough background checks because there's no telling just how many employees actually take advantage of their position to steal from the people they "help". Sexual background checks are good in schools to prevent child molesters from teaching, however I don't think sexual history makes any difference if you're in the JPL since your sexual history probably comes as short as your hand. The model of "one-size-fits-all" doesn't work, and I believe that these strict regulations should be given more thought onto where they should be applied and less on employee privacy.

Catch-22: the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade (3, Insightful)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700280)

Catch-22 http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=7225 [sheilaomalley.com]

Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.

Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the greatest piece of music ever composed. The more loyalty oaths a person signed, the more loyal he was; to Captain Black it was as simple as that, and he had Corporal Kolodny sign hundreds with his name each day so that he could always prove he was more loyal than anyone else.

Re:Catch-22: the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700334)

Beat me to it.

I think what we really need to do is a) lurch the USA to the right so that the psychological preferences of structuralists/authoritarians (generally people who join the paramilitaries and militaries because it's where they are very comfortable) become worshiped as the norm and anyone else is therefore suspect or deviant. B) Look for secret muslims. These people may not be muslim. They may have never met a muslim. But they may in fact be secret muslims even to themselves. C) Proof of B will be that they disagree with A.

The irony (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700286)

It's ironic that the people who would be comfortable discussing their sexual history with strangers in a stressful interview situation would probably be the sorts of people who have done some things the interviewers would not want to hear about. Conversely, the people who haven't done much will probably be reluctant to talk about the little they have done, and so would look guilty.

It's a perfect Fail/Fail!

Re:The irony (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700376)

I for one am most happy to live in a country where asking about my sex life during a job interview is illegal.

Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) (0, Offtopic)

enmingteo (1909116) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700368)

Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) Takes God to the U.S. Supreme Court Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) wants to sue God for His utter negligence on earthly affairs. How can I file a lawsuit against Him at the United States Supreme Court, the European Court of Justice, and the International Court of Justice? Like Nebraska Democratic State Senator Ernie Chambers, I want to seek a permanent injunction against God. Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) Singapore Identity Card Number: S78*6*2*H Location: Bedok Reservoir Road, Singapore 470103 Mobile Phone Number (Starhub Pre-paid): +65-8369-2618 Photo of Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) #1: http://i53.tinypic.com/207tamp.jpg [tinypic.com] Photo of Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming) #2: http://img713.imageshack.us/img713/7534/enmingteodscf2511.jpg [imageshack.us]

We're All Safer For It (1)

beckett (27524) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700384)

Nothing could be worse than the terrorists gaining critical strategic information regarding Saturn. We should just encase all of CalTech in amber just to make sure there are no leaks.

Suitability Matrix (3, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700424)

By the way, here's a copy of the suitability matrix [hspd12jpl.org] .

Deep Backgrounds (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700436)

Sometimes those background checks are run without employees having a clue. I am of the belief that even for private sector jobs that our government is involved in those checks. And they are not always for positions that one might suspect that they would be run. I found out about this as a consequence of a burglary in which files were found by various employees.
                          And there is some good that can come from this. For example I know of a stock boy who was throwing thousands of dollars in parts into the dumpster buried in shipping trash. And for good measure a higher up employee who was given time to find another job who was causing the loss of tens of thousands of dollars worth of parts.
                          Perhaps it is not such a bad thing that these checks take place. If they do I can think of two people that I just mentioned that will be black listed forever.

RE: JPL ... NASA ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700494)

For some time JPL and the California Institute of Techmology have flaunted employment and State Department laws.

Now. the Department of Home Land Security, want stewardship of JPL.

This is the GAME.

Officials at Department of Homeland Security are blackmailing persons at the Jet Propulison Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security want sexual gratification from persons at the Jet Propulison Laboratory.

This is all it is .... rather small balls I'd say. Well that is what DoHS is all about.

hYomo (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700586)

Monoculture (1)

Patent Lover (779809) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700610)

Blackmail as an espionage tool is a joke. Nobody turns over highly classified information to an enemy due to infidelity/being gay/embarasing photo. The biggest spy cases always involve ego. Nothing more. Google it. Of course, this is why our intelligence infrastructure is a joke. There's a monoculture of tee teetotalers/fidelity freaks/paranoids/non fun people. This is why we invade other countries without any credible evidence for the need.

is it me or does the story make no sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700612)

"Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, concerned about background checks now required of federal employees, sued NASA to suspect the checks back in 2007"

what the hell? what are they suing for? to suspect the checks? what checks? suspect what? i don't get it.

Re:is it me or does the story make no sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700724)

s/suspect/suspend/

Was it so difficult to see through the typo that you couldn't use capitalization anymore?

(Of course, with less effort than posting, you could have read the news article, too.)

idiots (0)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700632)

Let me just address the JPL for a second...
Hey JPL, I had to go pee in a cup and get a background check to do an inventory project for IBM for 2 weeks and it was through another contractor, not IBM directly. I think if you're working on a tube with a gigantic bomb strapped to it, you should probably not be an axe murderer or have a history of mental illness. Just about any job that's remotely important in the US has a background get, get the hell over it.

Re:idiots (3, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33700744)

Everyone is put through normal background checks that should turn up things like "axe murder". And everyone is also at least obligated to pee in the cup if asked to. (I'm not sure if JPL runs randomized screening or just waits for probable cause.) But unless IBM is digging unusually deeply, your sexual history wasn't consider, nor were the histories of your friends and family. That's what's being disputed here.

Also, note that the scientists in question do no work on "gigantic bombs" or even on the rockets. They work on the robot probes which are in the vicinity of entirely different planets. There isn't much that they can to do you, even if they do snap and decide to hijack the probe. There's also very little that they know that any foreign government would pay for, in as much as said governments could wait a few months for the publication of the findings anyway.

What sexual histories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700640)

The background checks, which can include interviewing people from employees' pasts such as landlords and teachers, may seek, among other things, sexual histories.

JPL scientists should be safe considering the last one...

Actually JPL wasn't concerned about the inquiry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700642)

They just didn't believe that NASA was being allowed to do its job anymore, so they decided to sue for that as part of their requested remedy.

Well...that's what I would have sued for anyway.

All Worked Up Over Nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700776)

The only thing that matters is whether or not you can be blackmailed. When they did my interview, there was exactly 1 question that has anything even remotely to do with sexual history:

Is there anything about your lifestyle, conduct, personal habits, family, or associates that is not generally known which could ever be used to pressure, influence, or coerce you?

The way it was explained to me is they don't really care, from a security standpoint if you're (let's say) gay. What they care about is whether or not you can be blackmailed for it (whatever 'it' is). If you're gay or whatever, and you can't be blackmailed, then you truthfully answer 'no' to that question and that's it. They don't ask anything else about sexual history.

What they're really worried about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33700832)

You'll stea...borrow the robot arm and use it to masturbate.

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